On Monday afternoon we finished, here in Bangalore, our first ever Pan-Asian Conference Theological Ethicists: “Doing Catholic Theological Ethics in a Cross-Cultural and Interreligious Asian Context.” There were 95 ethicists, among whom were 14 plenary speakers and another 36 presenting paper during concurrent sessions.
One of the finest plenary sessions, “Doing Interfaith Ethics in Asia” involved three speakers from countries where Catholics are very much a minority. Delivering a flawless paper, “A God by any other name,” Sharon Bong covered the trajectory of lawsuits filed by the Catholic church in Malaysia against its government’s decision to permit only Muslims to use the word “Allah” in referencing God. For twenty centuries, Malay-speaking Christian Malaysians have used “Allah” as their word for God, easily predating the Muslim use of the word. In 2008, the Catholic press was banned from using the word, or else it would forfeit licensing. With a final court decision ultimately upholding the government ban, Bong entertained whether forgiveness or resistance marks the proper ethical response.
Haruko Okano from Japan proposed an argument on how feminist Catholic writings on “moral responsibility” could help contemporary Japanese ethics. Explaining how much a shaming culture inhibits any autonomous accountability, Okano considered how often a Japanese apology is a face-saving action that has little to do with assuming personal or social moral culpability. When asked what was the meaning of the Japanese apology for World War II, she answered that it was a way of simply saying, let bygones be bygones, a reply that left the audience speechless.
During the conference, several bishops, archbishops and cardinals came to be with us. At a Syro-Malabar rite Liturgy on Sunday morning, Archbishop Joseph Perumthottam spoke to us about the strengths of the Eastern rite churches in moral theology. Earlier on Saturday evening, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, head of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences and a member of Pope Francis’ G8, gave a remarkably invigorating appeal for moral theologians to help the church prepare for the upcoming synod and for the implementation of Laudato si’.
After the Gracias’ liturgy, at a memorial service for the Asian theologian, Lùcàs Chan Yiu-Sing, S.J., Director of the Asian Region of Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC) and the organizer of the conference before his death on May 19th, the leadership of CTEWC announced the launch of a new book series in Chan’s honor, Asian Theological Ethics, as well as a scholarship in his name for doctoral studies in biblical ethics at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram in Bangalore.
The last plenary speaker was Sr. Vimala Chenginimattam, CMC, who addressed the role of women ethicists in terms of the future development of moral theology. She spoke of how nearly everywhere but India, lay women were theological ethicists throughout Asia. Having finished her doctorate at the Alfonsianum in Rome 9 years ago, she described the situation in India where 60,000 religious women are beleaguered with numerous roles but few in leadership. She presented however a host of women religious who as physicians, theologians, and lawyers advance the cause of justice in the service of faith. In her final remarks she poignantly spoke of her own struggles to express the needs of Roman Catholic women in India.
On Monday, the indefatigable Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle came from Manila and gave a public lecture to us and another 300 Indian seminarians, priests and nuns mostly students and faculty from Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram where the conference was held. The cardinal gave a very fine presentation on cross-cultural dialogue and the problem of the way a few particular cultures dominate others. His style was inimitable as he provided, almost through pantomime, hilarious narratives and images of the difficulty involved in recognizing differences in cultural expectations. Wearing only dress pants and a Filipino everyday Barong, Tagle could not have more impressed his Indian listeners. During the q and a, one young priest commented, that he had never met a cardinal quite like Tagle: unimposing, casual, funny, delightful and insightful. The room broke out into sustained applause.
James Keenan, THE FIRST, August 2015
Coverage from Jose Kavi:
Link to Asian Theological Ethics Series which published the plenary papers from this regional conference.